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Today I'm going to unpack for you three examples of iconic design, and it makes perfect sense that I should be the one to do it because I have a Bachelor's degree in Literature. (Laughter) But I'm also a famous minor television personality and an avid collector of Design Within Reach catalogs, so I pretty much know everything there is.
Now, I'm sure you recognize this object; many of you probably saw it as you were landing your private zeppelins at Los Angeles International Airport over the past couple of days. This is known as the Theme Building; that is its name for reasons that are still very murky. And it is perhaps the best example we have in Los Angeles of ancient extraterrestrial architecture.
It was first excavated in 1961 as they were building LAX, although scientists believe that it dates back to the year 2000 Before Common Era, when it was used as a busy transdimensional space port by the ancient astronauts who first colonized this planet and raised our species from savagery by giving us the gift of written language and technology and the gift of revolving restaurants.
It is thought to have been a replacement for the older space ports located, of course, at Stonehenge and considered to be quite an improvement due to the uncluttered design, the lack of druids hanging around all the time and obviously, the much better access to parking. When it was uncovered, it ushered in a new era of streamlined, archaically futuristic design called Googie, which came to be synonymous with the Jet Age, a misnomer. After all, the ancient astronauts who used it did not travel by jet very often, preferring instead to travel by feathered serpent powered by crystal skulls.
Ah yes, a table. We use these every day. And on top of it, the juicy salif. This is a design by Philippe Starck, who I believe is in the audience at this very moment. And you can tell it is a Starck design by its precision, its playfulness, its innovation and its promise of imminent violence. (Laughter)
It is a design that challenges your intuition -- it is not what you think it is when you first see it. It is not a fork designed to grab three hors d'oeuvres at a time, which would be useful out in the lobby, I would say. And despite its obvious influence by the ancient astronauts and its space agey-ness and tripodism, it is not something designed to attach to your brain and suck out your thoughts. It is in fact a citrus juicer and when I say that, you never see it as anything else again.
It is also not a monument to design, it is a monument to design's utility. You can take it home with you, unlike the Theme Building, which will stay where it is forever. This is affordable and can come home with you and, as such, it can sit on your kitchen counter -- it can't go in your drawers; trust me, I found that out the hard way -- and make your kitchen counter into a monument to design. One other thing about it, if you do have one at home, let me tell you one of the features you may not know: when you fall asleep, it comes alive and it walks around your house and goes through your mail and watches you as you sleep. (Applause)
Okay, what is this object? I have no idea. I don't know what that thing is. It looks terrible. Is it a little hot plate? I don't get it. Does anyone know? Chi? It's an ... iPhone. iPhone. Oh yes, that's right, I remember those; I had my whole bathroom tiles redone with those back in the good old days.
No, I have an iPhone. Of course I do. Here is my well-loved iPhone. I do so many things on this little device. I like to read books on it. More than that, I like to buy books on it that I never have to feel guilty about not reading because they go in here and I never look at them again and it's perfect. I use it every day to measure the weight of an ox, for example.
Every now and then, I admit that I complete a phone call on it occasionally. And yet I forget about it all the time. This is a design that once you saw it, you forgot about it. It is easy to forget the gasp-inducement that occurred in 2007 when you first touched this thing because it became so quickly pervasive and because of how instantly we adopted these gestures and made it an extension of our life. Unlike the Theme Building, this is not alien technology. Or I should say, what it did was it took technology which, unlike people in this room, to many other people in the world, still feels very alien, and made it immediately and instantly feel familiar and intimate.
And unlike the juicy salif, it does not threaten to attach itself to your brain, rather, it simply attaches itself to your brain. (Laughter) And you didn't even notice it happened. So there you go. My name is John Hodgman. I just explained design. Thank you very much.
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John Hodgman, comedian and resident expert, "explains" the design of three iconic modern objects. (From The Design Studio session at TED2012, guest-curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell.)
John Hodgman is a writer, humorist, geek celebrity, former professional literary agent and expert on all world knowledge. He was the bumbling PC in Apple's long-running "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" ad campaign. Full bio »